More Strangers….a journey to and from West Sutton

23 Apr

A number of things attract my attention as I stand and wait at this unmanned little station. Amongst them is the shapely backside of a forty-something lady in trousers as she studies the timetable. My stare lasts a fraction longer than intended – or necessary – and I avert eyes rapidly as she turns towards me. Too late, of course. I’m 62 and still haven’t learnt my lesson.

There are weeds that grow incipiently between the sleepers. Tall, strong, enduring – they push between the grubby, harsh clinker and seem proud to survive despite the rumbling rolling stock’s regular attempts to keep them in their place. An unshaven fat man leans over the platform edge and fires a globule of spit which lands on the live rail. I expect a sizzle. Nothing. The lady-with-the-bottom turns away, grimacing.

The announcer’s voice interrupts my reverie. Presumably this disembodied voice is a digital facsimile of a woman. In the unlikely event that she is real, she’s certainly not here, in West Sutton. Perhaps she’s down the line at an office in Wimbledon, checking a bank of screens and chummying up to travellers in the variety of places served by First Capital Connect. I wonder, momentarily, if she works for the rail company or Network Rail or whoever. The split second I entertain this thought I castigate myself for such sad, dull musing.

And now the battered First Capital Connect train rattles in. It has had a re-spray job which doesn’t disguise the secondhand, seen-better-days exterior. Inside it’s clean and bright with plenty of nanny-reminders on pink stickers finger-wagging the commuters to comply with common decencies of life: Please keep your feet off the seats; please offer your seat to elderly and disabled. There are plenty of Metros scattered about – a weighty woman gets on at Wimbledon to bag them up – and I wonder how many rainforests these free newspapers are consuming.

I make my way to the District Line tube, ignoring the bleeper which tells me to seek assistance when I flash my Oyster at a pink transfer port. The journey onward is uneventful – I lose interest in noting my surroundings and settle to the rather good read that is Sian Busby’s, A Commonplace Killing. Sian, the wife of that staccato-speaking economist, Robert Peston, has recently – and very sadly – died. This is her last novel, introduced movingly by RP. I am only somewhat distracted by two enormous men sitting either side of me, wedging me uncomfortably into my seat. As they shift and sit on the tail of my coat, I have to shift to release the thing. It’s stereo discomfort. Now I notice their thighs – great tree-trunks of undynamic flesh. Their knees can’t be pulled together; I can picture the ungainly  waddle which will carry them off the tube. Unfortunately I don’t get the pleasure of my waddle-prediction as I alight before them and emerge to the sun and throng of central London.

My return journey is even more exciting! It’s rush hour so the tubes are chokka. People pour out at Sloane Square with most of us awaiting to get on being polite, standing back. A slick pin-striper with his preppie son hove into view. They are piling forward – son being pushed and prodded by dad – as soon as the doors slide open. The boy, perhaps 11 or 12 has his head down and butts a tall woman amidships. I’m expecting a foreign expletive but a posh, stern  ‘DO YOU MIND’ pierces the air. Undaunted, without apology, Pinstripey steers his son around her and heads for the only available seat. There is mild amusement on the faces of a bunch of us who have witnessed this. As we set off I take in this unlikely rude couple. The father, now seated, has son sitting on his lap. He’s a big lad. If he wasn’t wearing the tailored brown shorts of a prep. school lad I would have place him at 15, perhaps. His grey sweater has a brown stripe at the V. His shoes are black and weighty, doubtless like the ones his father had to wear at Winchester or Westminster. Father is now ensconced in Wolf Hall. I am mildly surprised it’s taken him this long to get round to it. The boy is playing chess on his mobile phone. Both seem oblivious to the old lady who is standing yard away clinging on for dear life. She is rescued by a small, leather-jacketed, grubby man of indeterminate age and provenance.. He does have manners, though. Back to Prinstripey and son. Not one word passes between them until East Putney when, as they are getting off, the boy asks, ‘Is Hilary Mantel a woman?’

Wimbledon. 6.45pm. Rush hour(s) calming a little. Trains heading for Richmond and Shepperton are delayed. Plenty of groaning on Platform 8. Then a bright red South West Train (better-painted version of First Capital Connect) arrives with so many standing that noses are pressed hard against windows. Strange and macabre thoughts of death camps. Don’t go there. Only four carriages. How much are these commuters paying for their season tickets? The next rain in at Platform 8, heading for Guildford, has 8 coaches. Far fewer standing. Not rocket-science, is it?

Smug on Platform 9, waiting for the West Sutton train, I buy tea from a stall called Pumpkin. £1.85…not bad. I wonder what Starbucks charge on Platform 9? More, I’m thinking. The girl who serves me is very gorgeous but completely incomprehensible. I say yes a few times which seems to please her. I break away before there’s any chance of my agreeing to send money to a numbered bank account in Kiev. I walk a few yards and turn my attention to a young man – 25?- waiting alone by a poster for the musical I Can’t Sing. Simon Cowell is inset on the poster and this young man looks a younger version. Sharp white shirt with top three buttons undone to reveal sprouting black broccoli; a shock of razored dark hair with a sort-of middle parting; gleaming white teeth. I know they’re white because he’s munching a Cornish pasty. This somewhat lessens the Cowell/suavity quotient but underneath his left arm is lodged a single rose. The forward head-movement involved in his next bite seems to shift the rose which now looks certain to drop onto Platform 9. His reflexes are sharp, however. He catches the bloom as it heads to floor but this act, worthy of Botham in his prime in the slips, has consequence. Aargh! The pasty has gone down. A muffled ‘Shit’. A glance around. He catches my eye. He stoops to pick the thing up. Only a couple of small cubes of potato are left on the tarmac. Plenty of pasty left. Will he worry about eating something that has met the ground of platform 9? He looks at me again as he lifts the pasty to his mouth. I smile; so does he.

I return to the Sian Busby novel to finish the journey. I almost miss West Sutton and have to scramble somewhat to get off the train in time. The weeds are waiting and, as I climb the steps, I hear the announcer, wherever she may be, informing a now- empty platform that my train will be arriving soon.


3 Responses to “More Strangers….a journey to and from West Sutton”

  1. Julian April 23, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    Sorro, tres amusant. This excellent dissection of your train journey prompts me to ensure I am similarly entrained with you and Vickershit for the journey to the wilds of Godlaming on Monday, during which we can, perchance, pen the sequel – I suspect Godalming station will be sprouting early greenshoots as well. Happy St George’s day and as a penmaster you have no doubt already raised your glass to the Bard who would have been 450 years old today. Oh that this too too sullied flesh would melt…Cheers. Jules

  2. Mark White April 24, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    Makes me feel I was there, as opposed to here, where it is raining very hard indeed

  3. Beats By Dr Dre May 16, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Exceptionally well written!

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